How does Virginia Woolf subvert the conventions of the romance genre in Mrs Dalloway?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Virginia Woolf does an excellent job at subverting the stylistic devices used in her novel Mrs. Dalloway. The way she does this is by using pure realism to explain (quite respectfully) topics that are very natural and yet unnamed in literature. They are, among others, suicide, homosexuality, lesbianism, sex, marriage, social expectations of women, repression, and madness.

All these elements may sound negative to some readers, but they are realities of life that, in Virginia Woolf's unique style, must be exposed for what they are: Realities.

Far from presenting the typical plot of a love struggle turned into a fantasy romance, she brings us two characters that are psychologically and spiritually identical: Clarissa and Septimus. Both characters have undergone repression for loving people of their own sex, have experimented the results of repression, and have lived through a life of choices whose results are neither magical nor supernatural. Their choices just move their lives toward another stage: Clarissa's is a life of isolation. Septimus is death by suicide.

The inevitability of fate, and the reality of life are the key topics treated in Romantic literature. Love, loss, happiness, and sadness are not products of some form of fantastic alliance. They are inevitable processes of growth through which all of us have to live. Our choices are simply additional milestones for us to continue to live. Some of us will succeed, others will give up. It is just the way life is.

That is how Virginia Woolf subtlety infuses these techniques to explain the beginning, middle, and end of Clarissa and Septimus's lives.